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Memory culture

Vedas

Through sophisticated mnemonics and error-checking mechanisms the Vedas, the canonical religious texts of Hinduism, have been transmitted orally for three and a half thousand years with shocking precision in both word and sound.

Word frequency laws

Books

In 1945 the linguist George Zipf observed two strange word frequency phenomena: the longer a word is, the less common it is; and the most common word is used twice as much as the second most common, three times more than the third.

Hidden rules of sounds

Open mouth

In English no words begin with the consonant cluster /kstr/, but it does appear in the middle of “extra.” In contrast, Slovak can begin a word with “žblnkn” and Hawaiian never begins a word with more than one consonant. Why?